by Omar Reyes
Konrad Lorenz the Nobel Prize winning psychologist discovered a concept called bonding or imprinting. Most of us remember the picture of the duckling following him around at that critical time, just after hatching. Lorenz and the duckling were alone together and from that point forward the duckling responded to him as if he were the parent. The imprinted duckling experienced a sense of belonging to the man. Recent studies support the concept and significance of bonding between a mother and her baby. If mother and infant are together at that critical time right after birth a close bond occurs, but if mother and infant are separated immediately after birth, the infant can become attached to a surrogate or substitute mother. Apparently right after birth divinely designed psychological and physiological factors impact a newborn’s ability to bond with his parents. Birth is essentially the entrance into a new culture and environment with new sights, sounds and smells. It has been proven that during this moment of entrance, a child is especially equipped with the extraordinary ability to respond to these new and unusual circumstances. There is an important parallel between the infant entrance into his new culture and people who engage into a new foreign culture.
The first days and weeks of engaging a culture are critical. In this situation the person entering a new culture is bombarded with new sensations, sights, and smells but is able to respond to the new environment and experiences, while his adrenaline is flowing and his excitement is at a peak. Upon arrival he is in a unique state of readiness, both physiologically and emotionally, to establish a bond with the local people in his new environment. But instead many times he is taken away to bond with people of his own culture first, losing this unique opportunity. New missionaries tend to create this bond with other expatriates rather than with the people of the new society. I grew up in Belize and was greatly influenced by Canadian missionaries and witnessed the effect of these two types of entrances. When the missionaries did not quickly immerse themselves in the local culture they were primarily perceived as outsiders and found it very difficult to develop a sense of feeling at home in that local culture, therefore seldom pursued, as way of life, significant relationships in the community. This was often reflected in their language and attitude towards the locals. You would often hear statements like “Oh, these people! Why do they always do things this way?” or “Someone ought to teach them how to live.” or “Won’t these people ever learn?”
During those first days or weeks, immerse yourself in the local culture. Try to live with a local family for a few weeks before you engage others like yourself. It’s better to dive right in and experience life from the “insider’s” perspective. Live with the local people, go shopping with them and use their public transportation. From the very first day it is important to develop meaningful relationships with the local people. It will leave a lasting imprint. God came to us and entered our culture and made His home among us and became a belonger with mankind in order to draw people into a belonging relationship with God.